We Hold These Truths–Sort of

  Two years ago historians attacked the movie "Jefferson in Paris" for its inaccurate portrayal of our third president. Well, "Jefferson in Paris" has nothing on its sequel, "Jefferson in Jersey." Unfortunately, unlike its predecessor, "Jefferson in Jersey" isn't a movie. It's a bizarre real-life drama about state legislators who don't want kids to study the Declaration of Independence. The saga began when New Jersey State Senator Gerald Cardinale introduced a measure that would require New Jersey school children to regularly recite two sentences from the Declaration of Independence. These sentences, as theologian John Courtney Murray wrote, form the heart of the "American Proposition:" "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." No sooner had the measure been introduced than the politically correct crowd swung into action. Assemblywoman Nia Gill introduced an amendment that would have changed "all men" to "all people." If kids are going to recite the Declaration of Independence, she said, then she wants to protect them from "imbibing" Jefferson's "exclusionary" values towards women and blacks. Gill wants them to recite, as well, the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars slavery, and the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial, people like Gill are apparently unaware that the words of the Declaration of Independence were the very ones that inspired Lincoln to free the slaves. Gill is also apparently unaware that the leader of the modern civil-rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., was also inspired by these so-called "exclusionary" words. And then there was Assemblyman Neil Cohen who was concerned that the Declaration's talk about a creator is a "thinly veiled" attempt to introduce prayer in public schools. Prayer, humbug! When Jefferson used the words "endowed by their Creator," he was saying what any sensible person should already know: Human rights aren't the state's to give or to take way. But then again, being sensible isn't the aim of the exquisitely sensitive crowd. Their aim is to rewrite history to suit their ideological purposes--whether it's forcing feminist ideology down kids' throats or promoting the maintenance of a totally secular regime. And in their minds, if achieving those purposes requires the posthumous trashing of our third president, or destroying eloquent words that have inspired generations of Americans to fight and die in their defense, well, from their perspective, so be it. Ironically, these days it's up to Christians, who still believe in truth and tradition, to defend Jefferson, who was the most secular-minded founder. But Christians, with their respect for history, understand the debt that the present owes to the past. As we celebrate the Fourth of July this Sunday, let's resolve that we will defend our heritage. In fact, let's use the occasion not only to eat our hotdogs and enjoy our fireworks, but also to read to our kids those marvelous words that begin "We hold these truths to be self-evident."


Chuck Colson



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